Salty, Sour, Bitter, Sweet
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


This is the third in a series of three posts celebrating and responding to Carl Wilson’s book, Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste.

Carl’s installment in the 33 1/3 series of books on albums is, as Dan and Sean have both pointed out, a book about Celine Dion that is not about Celine Dion. Rather, it is a discursive work on, among other things, taste, identity, and the practice of music criticism. It’s also about the writer himself; in the middle of the book, as the personal begins to pervade its pages and its themes are reframed in this context, we discover that what at first appeared a worthy academic exercise is actually a stealthily affecting work. As Sean put it yesterday, it is “a treatise on aesthetics cut through (like a hot knife) with the deeply personal.”

In another way, however, Carl’s book actually really is about Celine Dion. Let’s Talk About Love is in fact a fine and compelling, if highly unusual, work of appreciation. Yes, it could have been about someone else, some other saccharine or schmaltzy artist, but it’s not. By the end of his year-long experiment, Carl can write earnestly, though somewhat tepidly, about a few merits of Dion’s music, and carefully – without patronizing and with sympathy – about her usefulness in the world, about what other people might like about her. And in so doing, I think he provides by example an answer to one of the central questions of his book: If there is no objectively good or bad taste, no hierarchy of low and high brows, what is the point of music criticism?


"The Letter" - Joe Cocker

My eighth year was an important one in my aesthetic development. In 1988 I was impacted in particular by two events: 1) Ben Johnson was stripped of his Olympic Gold Medal in the 100 metre dash; 2) I bought my first two cassettes: Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Volume Two and Joe Cocker’s Greatest Hits. Johnson’s disgrace brought me infinite sadness, my new tunes uncountably infinite joy. Thus was my intended career path diverted from track and field to the arts.

My parents were fans of Bob Dylan and Joe Cocker (one of whose songs is also “their song”), and I took pleasure in liking the same things as them, especially when “our taste” diverged, as it always did, from the standard taste of my peers. My aesthetic was determined at that age by wanting to be one of the cool kids, and my role models just happened to be Alex and Frum Himelfarb, Ph.Ds. This is not to say that I didn’t derive real pleasure from listening to the music – my first musical loves were among my most intense – just that it was not in a vacuum that I arrived at those particular artists. (For more on my musical education as provided by Dad, read this.)

By high school I’d added indie rock, proto-punk, post-punk, new wave, prog, jazz (and several of its sub-genres) to my early musical diet of classic rock and folk. I was constantly in search of the new - new sounds, new names. I hosted a show at Ottawa U’s radio station that might best have been called Something to Alienate Everyone. When I moved to Montreal for university, I became an obscene consumer of records, buying up everything I could get my grubby little paws on. I discovered soul and old blues and John Fahey – whatever he is – classical musics and country and everything else. I was so open-minded that my brains fell out; a list of the many and diverse purchases made during my Great Consumption would act as a reductio ad absurdum, negating the validity of my critical work, if such a thing were possible. My motivations for behaving this way were myriad: Yes, the accumulation of cultural capital was part of it; but – and I imagine this is true of almost all music collectors - I was also genuinely curious, genuinely loving of these new and different musics, an addict looking for my next fix.

There is no doubt that I taught myself to like much of this stuff. I was not born into my taste; rather, my preferences are the product of a subtle, ineffable interaction between nature, socialization and cultivation. What difference does it make how I arrived at them; I am glad for the discovery of every piece of music I now enjoy, for without any one my life would be less rich.


Now I’m an old hermit, it’s true. Whereas until recently my taste biography was one of constant addition, for the first time my musical preferences have narrowed and hardened. You might say that I now know what I like, or you might say that I’ve become lazy, less willing to learn to like. Either way, I can’t properly serve the traditional role of music critic. I’m not interested enough to sift through every new release, I don’t have the energy to write negatively about music that never had a chance with me or the conviction to convince someone that something they like isn’t good.

Several years ago, I wrote an article about the 33 1/3 series in which I talked about the “tremendous potential of music writing to go beyond the role of guide, of simple yay- or naysayer, to serve as a broadener of taste, an enricher of appreciation, and a window into the author’s own experience of music.” I argued that the most profound thing a critic can do is “point to something in a musical work - a harmony, a melody, a lyrical theme, a fact about its creation or creator, or even the critic’s own subjective experience of it - that makes the listener experience its beauty anew or with new depth.” None of this depends upon objective detachment or an acknowledgement of high and low, just a belief in the possibility of the intersubjective appreciation of art. I hope that is what we do here at Said the Gramophone. Certainly Carl’s book does it in spades; by calling out our flimsy aesthetic prejudices, he encourages a more generous approach to art as well as to people with taste different from our own.

[Buy Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker, and please buy Carl Wilson's Let's Talk About Love]

Posted by Jordan at January 9, 2008 9:13 PM

that was a good read. thanks.

Posted by bleep at January 10, 2008 6:54 AM

Lovely. Generosity is certainly an underused term in musical criticism, and 'criticism' of all kinds.

Posted by Julia T at January 10, 2008 4:58 PM

Post a comment

(Please be patient, it can be slow.)
about said the gramophone
This is a daily sampler of really good songs. All tracks are posted out of love. Please go out and buy the records.

To hear a song in your browser, click the and it will begin playing. All songs are also available to download: just right-click the link and choose 'Save as...'

All songs are removed within a few weeks of posting.

Said the Gramophone launched in March 2003, and added songs in November of that year. It was one of the world's first mp3blogs.

If you would like to say hello, find out our mailing addresses or invite us to shows, please get in touch:
Montreal, Canada: Sean
Toronto, Canada: Emma
Montreal, Canada: Jeff
Montreal, Canada: Mitz

Please don't send us emails with tons of huge attachments; if emailing a bunch of mp3s etc, send us a link to download them. We are not interested in streaming widgets like soundcloud: Said the Gramophone posts are always accompanied by MP3s.

If you are the copyright holder of any song posted here, please contact us if you would like the song taken down early. Please do not direct link to any of these tracks. Please love and wonder.

"And I shall watch the ferry-boats / and they'll get high on a bluer ocean / against tomorrow's sky / and I will never grow so old again."
about the authors
Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

Emma Healey writes poems and essays in Toronto. She joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. This is her website and email her here.

Jeff Miller is a Montreal-based writer and zinemaker. He is the author of Ghost Pine: All Stories True and a bunch of other stories. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Say hello on Twitter or email.

Mitz Takahashi is originally from Osaka, Japan who now lives and works as a furniture designer/maker in Montreal. English is not his first language so please forgive his glamour grammar mistakes. He is trying. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Reach him by email here.

Site design and header typography by Neale McDavitt-Van Fleet. The header graphic is randomized: this one is by Neale McDavitt-Van Fleet.
Dan Beirne wrote regularly for Said the Gramophone from August 2004 to December 2014. He is an actor and writer living in Toronto. Any claim he makes about his life on here is probably untrue. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.

Jordan Himelfarb wrote for Said the Gramophone from November 2004 to March 2012. He lives in Toronto. He is an opinion editor at the Toronto Star. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.
our patrons
Said the Gramophone does not take advertising. We are supported by the incredible generosity of our readers. These were our donors in 2013.
watch StG's wonderful video contest winners

our favourite blogs
(◊ means they write about music)

Back to the World
La Blogothèque
Weird Canada
Destination: Out
Endless Banquet
A Grammar (Nitsuh Abebe)
Ill Doctrine
A London Salmagundi
Words and Music
Petites planétes
Gorilla vs Bear
Silent Shout
Clouds of Evil
The Dolby Apposition
Awesome Tapes from Africa
Matana Roberts
Pitchfork Reviews Reviews
i like you [podcast]
Nicola Meighan
radiolab [podcast]
CKUT Music
plethoric pundrigrions
Wattled Smoky Honeyeater
The Clear-Minded Creative
Torture Garden
Passion of the Weiss
Juan and Only
Horses Think
White Hotel
Then Play Long (Marcello Carlin)
Uno Moralez
Coming Up For Air (Matt Forsythe)
my love for you is a stampede of horses
It's Nice That
Song, by Toad
In Focus
WTF [podcast]
The Rest is Noise (Alex Ross)
My Daguerreotype Boyfriend
The Hood Internet

things we like in Montreal
st-viateur bagel
café olimpico
Euro-Deli Batory
le pick up
kem coba
le couteau
au pied de cochon
mamie clafoutis
tourtière australienne
chez boris
alati caserta
vices & versa
+ paltoquet, cocoa locale, idée fixe, patati patata, the sparrow, pho tay ho, qin hua dumplings, caffé italia, hung phat banh mi, caffé san simeon, meu-meu, pho lien, romodos, patisserie guillaume, patisserie rhubarbe, kazu, lallouz, maison du nord, cuisine szechuan &c

drawn + quarterly
+ bottines &c

casa + sala + the hotel
blue skies turn black
montreal improv theatre
passovah productions
le cagibi
cinema du parc
pop pmontreal
yoga teacher Thea Metcalfe

Cult Montreal
The Believer
The Morning News
The Skinny